When the pandemic first hit, many businesses switched to remote work arrangements overnight, and millions of employees were introduced to the idea of flexible work for the first time. Once a large portion of the workforce got a taste of remote and hybrid work, compressed workweeks, shorter hours, flex hours, and more, they didn’t want to go back to the office full time.
However, the desire for more work flexibility didn’t begin with the pandemic. People craved flexible work environments, before COVID-19, and many considered it a priority when changing jobs. The pandemic just proved to companies that they can’t return to “business as usual.” As the workplace evolves, it’ll be important for you as an HR leader to understand employees’ expectations around flexibility.
The Risks of a Rigid Work Environment
Job candidates still control the labor market amid the Great Resignation. Therefore, your company needs to do everything it can to attract and retain top talent. Without flexibility, your company risks losing its best personnel, especially because flexibility is a high priority for most workers. (Ninety percent of employees want flexibility in when and where they work, according to an EY survey.)
If your company already offers flexible work arrangements, it’s critical to communicate this benefit to current and prospective employees. Per EY, only 40% of companies surveyed actually communicated their flex work arrangements to their teams, causing an avoidable disconnect. By developing well-defined flexible working plans and effectively presenting them to employees, you can reassure your workforce that you value their preferences and want them to thrive in an environment best suited for them.
As many studies have shown, flexible work environments result in better engagement, higher retention rates, and elevated performance and results. Plus, a flexible work model enables you to open up your talent pool by eliminating geographic constraints for some positions and making it easier to hire non-full-time candidates. Flexibility is truly a win-win for both your company and employees.
Best Practices for Flexible Working Environments
If your company is new to the flexible work model, then it’s important to learn a few best practices to ensure long-term success. This is especially key in today’s job market. Here are a few effective tips to keep in mind in the transition to flexible and remote work:
1. Start saying ‘yes.’
Flexible work bodes well for your company, your team members, and your customers. Introducing flexible work arrangements might inspire your team members to bring their ideas to the table. If they do, resist the urge to say “no” or “that won’t work” right off the bat. It’s time to start thinking about what’s possible versus not possible.
2. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
When it comes to flexible work, focus on what makes sense for each role and department. Some companies fall into the trap of defining what flexibility looks like for the organization as a whole. For instance, they might tell employees that they can work from home 2 days a week and that those days can’t be Monday or Friday. This doesn’t work. Why? It muddles the message; it’s not true flexibility.
3. Focus on outcomes.
It’s easy to focus more on the tasks people perform in their roles versus the outcomes. However, this approach can put your organization in a rut based on how you’ve always done things. When you focus on outcomes instead of the “how,” you can see the bigger picture and better evaluate what works.
4. Involve more people in the decision-making process.
At this point, you’ve trained your team well enough for them to understand what needs to be done, when things might impact customers, and how each team member contributes. As an HR leader, you don’t need all the answers. All you have to do is engage your team. When you involve your team in the decision-making process, you’ll improve everyone’s understanding and the results. Plus, your team will be more committed to making the flexible work environment a success.
5. Remember that flexible work requires experimentation.
One of the best parts of implementing a new process is figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Approach flexible work with a mindset of experimentation. Nothing is cast in stone, and you have an opportunity to test out this part of your business and evaluate it. What was the impact? What was highly successful about it? What were the unintended consequences? You will learn a lot through implementation and can make small tweaks to improve the environment.
If you are considering a flexible work environment for your organization, remember that what works for one department or employee might not work for another. Still, one thing is clear: Embracing the flexible work model isn’t optional. People are prioritizing flexibility when it comes to choosing where to work. Remember to gather input from your team, make flexible work truly flexible, and adjust your approach based on people’s needs to make the initiative a success.
Gloria St. Martin-Lowry is the president of HPWP Group, a company that promotes leadership and organizational development through positivity, coaching, and problem-solving. HPWP is driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members.
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